Cameras

My favorite cameras

I’ve owned north of 200 cameras in the 40 years I’ve collected them, from crappy Instamatics to professional-grade gear. But I return to just four cameras over and over. As I’ve grown to love photography, these are the cameras I want to shoot, and shoot, and shoot.

Pentax ME

Pentax ME. I love this camera beyond all reason. It’s small and light, it takes the whole range of K-mount manual focus lenses, and it produces great results time after time. It’s an aperture-priority camera that needs a battery to function fully, but I don’t mind because I love aperture-priority shooting. Bodies can be picked up for a song — the one pictured cost just $16. Pentax lenses are wonderful, plentiful, and relatively inexpensive. So it would not be a crisis if my ME were damaged or stolen.

Rife's

This is one of my favorite photos from my ME. I shot it with a 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax lens on Kodak Tri-X film, on Grandview Avenue in Columbus, Ohio.

Nikon F2AS

Nikon F2. This is arguably the finest all-manual, all-mechanical 35mm SLR ever made. My photo buddy John Smith has sent me two F2s — one an F2A with the DP-11 Photomic meter-prism-viewfinder head, and this one, an F2AS with the DP-12 Photomic head. Before John sent the F2AS to me, he sent it off to Sover Wong, the finest F2 repairman in the world, for a complete overhaul. This camera is pretty much set to work flawlessly for the rest of my life. I’ve taken more photos with this F2AS than with any other camera I’ve ever owned.

Red tree parking lot *EXPLORED*

I shot this autumn scene with the F2AS and my 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor lens on Fujifilm Velvia 50 slide film. This is the parking lot at Washington Park North Cemetery, around the corner from my house. The color and sharpness are unassailable!

Nikon F3HP *EXPLORED*

Nikon F3. John Smith also sent me the F2’s successor, the F3. It came with the DE-3 meter-prism-viewfinder head, with its “high eyepoint” feature that lets you see into the viewfinder with your eye up to an inch away. That’s useful when you wear glasses. It was the first F-series camera to offer autoexposure, in this case aperture priority. It’s a solid, reliable performer that’s a joy to shoot.

Counter at Cup 'o Joe

I shot this with my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens on Arista Premium 400 film. This is the counter at Cup o’ Joe, a coffee shop in the Short North in Columbus, Ohio.

Yashica-D

Yashica-D. The only medium-format camera to make my short list, this twin-lens-reflex Yashica operates with buttery smoothness and Teutonic precision. Everything about it feels wonderful! This all-mechanical camera makes me guess both focus and exposure. I prefer at least match-needle metering, yet I shoot with my Yashica-D happily anyway.

Yellow and purple lilies *EXPLORED*

I usually shoot slide film in my Yashica-D. On this summer day, I blew through an entire roll of Kodak E100G shooting flowers in my front bed.

A whole bunch of other cameras deserve an honorable mention. I like shooting with them, too, but don’t get them out as often.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

Canon Canonet QL17 G-III. This is my favorite 35mm rangefinder camera. It’s too bad that the light seals in mine are shot. I’ve got fresh seals to install — have had them for three years now. I’ll get around to installing them someday. (Meanwhile, I just seal the seams with electrical tape.) It also takes a dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery. I use an alkaline 625 cell.

Olympus XAOlympus XA. This light, tiny camera delivers outstanding results. It’s my second-favorite 35mm rangefinder because the controls are tiny and ever so slightly fiddly. But it’s a great choice when I want to have a camera along inconspicuously. It’s a little too thick to fit into my jeans pocket, but it slips right into pockets in my slacks and jackets.

Argus A-FourArgus A-Four. This was an advanced-amateur camera when it was new in the 1950s, offering a middling 50mm f/3.5 Coated Cintar lens. I didn’t expect much from this plastic and aluminum camera the first time I shot it, but holy cow does it deliver sharp photographs. And even though it makes you guess focus and exposure, it’s small and light. It’s a great camera for a sunny day: set the shutter at the inverse of the film speed and shoot at f/16. That gives wide depth of field, which makes up for a lot of focusing sins.

Nikon N2000

Nikon N2000. I have several wonderful Nikkor lenses for my F2s and F3, but sometimes want to shoot them with a body I wouldn’t cry over if it were damaged or stolen. This is that body. Fortunately, everything about it works flawlessly, and all the controls fall right to hand.

Agfa ClackAgfa Clack. This clever little medium-format camera is pretty much a point and shoot, but it delivers astonishingly crisp results. It’s designed to take the slow films that were common when it was new. Not surprisingly, I’ve had the best luck shooting ISO 50 Ilford Pan F Plus in it. Next time I shoot it, I’m trying Kodak Ektar, an ISO 100 film with wide exposure latitude.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model DKodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D. I never expected to be so charmed by a box camera. This cardboard box delivers wonderful photos, sharp as a tack except in the corners. Kodak Ektar 100 makes this centenarian camera sing. It is simply delightful to use. I’ve enjoyed a few very pleasant afternoons with this camera in my hands.

Kodak Monitor Six-20Kodak Monitor. This fine folding camera has a great 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens, which returns delightful photos. It takes 620 film, long out of production. Fortunately, 620 is 120 on a fatter spool. 120 can be respooled onto 620 spools. I’m lazy; I buy mine pre-respooled. My Monitor needs its shutter linkage adjusted, and putting off fixing that keeps me from shooting this camera more often.

Kodak Brownie StarmaticKodak Brownie Starmatic. I don’t shoot 127 film very often, which is a good thing because few options are available and they’re all expensive. But when I do shoot 127, I lean on this, probably the finest Brownie ever made. It features a crude but reasonably effective autoexposure system!

Polaroid Colorpack IIPolaroid Colorpack II. I’ve always been charmed by the idea of instant photography, but have usually been disappointed with the results. Lots of experimentation revealed to me that the Fuji pack films are probably the best instant films ever made, and that this particular pack film camera is the right balance between ease of use and image quality. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but bottom line: it’s my favorite instant camera.

It was hard narrowing down my camera herd to just this list! Several other cameras sit in the next tier: solid performers that I like but almost never shoot because the above cameras take up so much of my time.


Here are all of the old film cameras I’ve reviewed over the years.

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20 thoughts on “My favorite cameras

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I had a Pentax MX for a while, the less-automatic version of the ME…wish I still had it, every time I look back at transparencies I shot with that camera, and the Pentax lenses, they seem the equal or better to any 35mm I ever owned. I have a few K-1000’s now, but only because people keep giving them to me for nothing, or $10.00, they’re falling off of trees! They’re too “vibrationey” though, a lot of “clunk” and “slam”, compared to the MX/ME.

    You hit it on the head tho, the best 35mm film camera to own, over all, would be the newest generation Nikon F2 you could get your hands on. Once you get a CLA from a qualified camera mechanic, it’s bulletproof for life. Manual shutter, no battery dependence. I think the last gen light meter on it took a battery you can still get. I had a Nikon mechanic tell me one time that when he replaced all the rubber, the new stuff is of a formula that you would never have problems with it again. Since I was a pro, I really gave up all the 35mm stuff I had when it went digital, because the clients wouldn’t accept film anymore (never used it much anyway, made most of my money with sheet film and 120); I practically gave it away on eBay, museum mint Nikon multi-coated lenses for nothing, 50-75 bucks, I wish I still had them.

    If you like the Yashica, you should try the Minolta Autocord. At one time, I was collecting them and had 5 of them, I’m down to 1 now. Lenses “near-Rolleiflex” quality, and easier to use hand-held, since you can balance the camera in one hand, and do all the functions with the other. They’re getting much harder to find, and much pricier. I got a lot of them from wedding guys who used them as back-up for their Hasselblads.

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    • I’ve not used any of the other small-bodied Pentax SLRs but I imagine they’re all great. And I agree with you that the K1000 just feels cruder than the small-bodies.

      Yes, if I were forced to shoot only the F2 for the rest of my life, I’d smile and get on with it. It’s just a great camera, full stop.

      Thanks for the tip on the Autocord! I’ll look for one.

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  2. cs says:

    Hi Jim, Very entertaining read, I more or less agree with everything you say, although I prefer the MX to the ME, & still rave about a ’68 Yashica D which I should never have sold.
    I could say that I’ve handled most of the cameras you list except for the Clack ! I’d need a very heavy disguise to ever set foot in any street with a Clack in my hand :0)
    Could I just say that I recently sold a Nikon N2000 on flebay but I made in big mistake.
    a) The buyer is in deepest Russia and b) guess what he says it doesn’t work.
    Of course when the camera left me in the UK it was working 100% OK, but from what I can decipher from the buyer’s translated Russian [which isn’t much], the shutter appears broken.
    I very strongly suspect that the buyer has not read the supplied instruction manual, which was not in Russian, and if he has in fact correctly loaded up with MN2400 batteries, at the current -11 degrees at his location, it aint ever gonna fire up anyway !
    Just wondering if anybody else has had a similar problem ? If so I would appreciate hearing about it asap! Might add that I’ve been dealing on flebay for 15+ years and never had an issue like this, but then I don’t reckon that I ever sold to Russia before !
    Apologies for almost hi-jacking your post but think this issue would be of general interest.
    Cheers, Chris.
    ps flebay are of no help whatsoever, well well there’s a big surprise

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    • I can see why you like the MX; it’s a system camera offering so many options. The ME is really aimed at the amateur. But it does 90% of what I want and just feels good to use, so off I go!

      I think when selling on eBay you just have to count on some number of people who take advantage of you. It’s unfortunate, but it seems to be reality.

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  3. Interesting list Jim. I’m particularly jealous of your F2 and F3, and would love either one of those. Unfortunately I’m operating a dead man’s shoes policy with camera’s these days. Something’s got to have a nasty accident before I can even consider logging in to Ebay…

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Great post Jim you must get a MX great little camera as is the ME. I like your list all good cameras the only pro Nikon I have is the F4 a bit of a beast but lovely to use. I’m surprised no Minolta in the list especially with the nice f1,4 lens you have (must be in the next tier).
    May not be the case in the US but I find on the UK eBay people are asking silly prices for very basic gear, prices have certainly crept up over the last few years you certainly got to work hard to get a bargain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The MX looks sweet. Perhaps one day. As for Minolta, I have had more reliability troubles with their bodies. The only working Minolta bodies I have right now are an XG-1 and an SR-T 101; I have six other broken bodies. :-(

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      • I’ve had several old Minolta bodies myself (two 101s and a 303/202) and have had no luck at all yet ! Even in the ones listed as fully working, the shutter is faulty. This even applies to the lenses. While I have a few good lesnes, I’ve had the worst luck with Minolta glass with undiscolsed problems. For some reason Minolta is my jinxed brand.

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  5. Hi Jim. Great read :) I haven’t tried many of these myself, partly due to budget constraints, but I do have many other film bodies. Some of my faves in no order: Praktica MTL5B (agricultural and loud but no frills approach gets the job done time after time, in part due to the workhorse shutter. Also takes LR44 batteries !), Pentax SP500 (all of the Spotmatics are classics really, and the bridge circuit means one can use modern batteries), Olympus EE series (such a smart little point and shooter), Olympus OM-10 (great ergonomics and aperture priority make it a great camera).

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